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George III

Jacobitism, Opposition and Dissent

A Jacobite Chronology


James II escapes to France


James lands at Kinsale in Ireland; siege of Londonderry; Dundee musters Jacobites at Lochaber and launches Highland War;


guerilla war in Highlands; William defeats James at the Boyne


Scots Jacobites surrender


Glencoe massacre;


8 Lancs Jacobites acquitted of Jacobite conspiracy


‘Assassination plot’ discovered; mass arrests of Jacobite conspirators


Simon Fraser, ‘Lord’ Lovat concocts fake ‘Scotch’ plot in Highlands


Old Pretender arrives at Dunkirk and sail for Scotland but turn back


Bolingbroke flees to France; 4 leading Tories impeached; pro-Jacobite rioting in Midlands and North; Mar raises rebellion at Braemar; capture Perth; uprisings in Northumberland, Moffat, Rothbury, Kelso, Lancaster, Preston; Old Pretender lands at Peterhead


Old Pretender crowned James III at Perth; Jacobites retreat from Perth; Old Pretender leaves for France; Jacobite and Whig gangs fight in London


‘Swedish’ Jacobite plot aborted


Preparations for a Spanish invasion of England, supported by a Jacobite rising (the ‘19’)


Marischal and Scots Jaobite army defeated at Glenshiel


Arrest of ‘Atterbury’ plotters


‘Cornbury’ plot abandoned due to lack of interest


Porteous riots in Edinburgh


British discover plot of French invasion, mass arrests


French defeat Cumberland at Fontenoy; Young Pretender lands at Eriskay; capture Edinburgh; enter England but turn back at Derby;


French invasion cancelled; defeated at Culloden by Cumberland; Charles returns to France


Jacobite demonstrations at Lichfield races


Jacobite rioting at Walsall


Jacobite riots at Exeter


‘Elibank’ plot betrayed; Cameron executed - last man to die for Jacobite cause

Source: Daniel Szechi, The Jacobites

The Jacobites

Jacobitism although with hindsight unsuccessful proved one of the most enduring forms of opposition to the established regime in Britain from 1688 until the 1750’s. It had a parliamentary base and much support in the country. There have been major divisions amongst historians who have looked at the contribution Jacobitism made to eighteenth century British politics. These can be divided roughly into the optimists; pessimists and rejectionists.

A) optimists - in some ways descended from the romantic tradition of Jacobitism created by Sir Walter Scott in the nineteenth century when the threat had long since passed and the Jacobite period was looked back on sentimentally. Sir Charles Petrie wrote in the 1930s arguing that Jacobitism was a genuine political movement with a mass following, rather than just an elite band of aristocrats. Eveline Cruickshanks argued in the Political Untouchables that the Tory party were deeply involved with Jacobitism. Paul Hopkin’s study of the Highlands war from 1689-91 argued that this was not an unimportant event but a crippling civil war that bankrupted the Scottish state. Monod’s study of the social history of Jacobitism suggested that Jacobitism infiltrated all levels of society.

B) pessimists - the main argument is that apaathy, the Revolution settlement and the power of the British state kept the Jacobites at bay and ultimately defeated them. George Hilton Jones wrote in the 1950s portraying the Jacobites as tools of their backers with little hope of success. Other historians have portrayed the Jacobites as out of touch and unpopular.

C) rejectionists - historians in the Whig tradition have tended to ignore Jacobitism, believing that it could only ever occupy the margins of history. It was defeated therefore it could not have won. Paul Langford’s Polite and Commercial People; Speck’s Tory and Whig and Colley’s In Defiance of Oligarchy either ignore or dismiss Jacobitism briefly. The opposite view is Jonathan Clark’s who uses Jacobitism to explain the existence of a deep vein of social and political conservatism running through British history until at least the 1820s.


New focus on cities/urban dissent see Kathleen Wilson, Sense of the People and Nicholas Rogers, Whigs and Cities. But often this opposition was Tory/reactionary/patriotic in nature eg Admiral Vernon; resistance to taxes; distrust of Whig oligarchy etc

Britain in the Reign of George III

Politics - establishment of Britain as a ‘great power’ in Europe

Economic/Social - industrial/agricultural expansion, urbanisation and population growth

Religion - growth of dissent

Easter Day communicants, Church of England, 1801


Estimated Catholic population, 1780


Congregationalists, 1800


Particular Baptists, 1800


New Connexion Baptists, 1800


Wesleyan Methodists, 1801


New Connexion Wesleyans, 1801


Foreign Policy: Seven Years War 1756-1763; War of American Independence 1775-1783; Peninsular War; Waterloo; War of 1812










[beginning of population explosion]



[first census]

Structure of Politics

King at the centre - George III struggled to regain the initiative for the monarch after years of Whig oligarchy

Ministers - appointed and removed by King; development of cabinet and Prime Ministerial post during reign

Lords - acted as revising chamber; generally supported King; wielded great power via patronage

Commons - more and more unrepresentative due to stagnation of electoral politics; but grew more vociferous and independent during period

Parties - the central historiographical debate is whether they existed or not

Factual overview

  • George III inherited his chief minister - Duke of Newcastle; regarded him with suspicion
  • Crisis over 7 years war enabled King’s favourite Bute to be brought into cabinet (Oct. 1760); first Pitt (Oct. 1762) and then the ‘old corps’ Whigs including Newcastle were ousted [May 1762]; this was followed by the so-called ‘Massacre of Pelhamite Innocents’ when Newcastle and his supporters were stripped of all government and local posts
  • Bute became first lord of treasury but had little support and resigned in 1763 over the Cider Tax issue
  • Succeeded by a triumvirate with a conservative tinge. Wilkes affair (part 1) and taxation of American colonies ensured that they lost the tenuous support of the Commons and were removed
  • King forced to turn to Rockingham (July 1765) who introduced sweeping changes and attempted to regain the initiative for Parliament from monarchical power
  • As soon as the King could persuade Pitt to form a government (July 1766) he withdrew support from Rockingham
  • Pitt (now the Earl of Chatham) moved the administration to the right but government was still split. Wilkes issue (part 2) signalled the end of the administration and King turned to Lord North (Jan 1770) in the hope that a man with no apparent following would end the factionalism of politics and unite the divided government
  • North led an uneasy peace for a decade but this did not mean the end of factional conflict

Historiographical overview

  • Debate is between historians such as Namier and Clark who emphasise continuity with earlier period and those such as Brewer and O’Gorman who view the period as one of fundamental change
  • Is characterised by the debate on the existence - or otherwise - of some semblance of a party system in the early part of George III’s reign
  • Guttridge and Brewer argue that ‘Toryism’ if not a Tory party was present e.g. in coercion of government, emergence of a group known as the ‘King’s Friends’; secret cabinet led by Bute
  • Challenged by Christie who argues that any conservative tendencies in government were quickly defeated by use of law; freedom was increasing not declining after 1760; double cabinet/ secret government was a myth and propaganda from the Rockinghamites who had a vested interest in painting George III and his chosen ministers as corrupt and over-powerful
  • O’Gorman argues for the existence of a Rockinghamite ‘party’ in which he sees the origins of the nineteenth century Whig party e.g. in ideology, organisation and policy